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Full text of "My Country And My People"

LITERARY    LIFE                        245

consequently was least ridden with classical standards, and
constantly grew and profited from that freedom. Because
Chinese dramatic composition happened to be largely poetry,
it was accepted as literature on a higher level than the novels,
and almost on a par with the T'ang lyrics. Scholars were less
ashamed to be known as writing dramatic works than writing
novels. On the whole, the authorship of dramas was not
anonymous or subject to debate like the authorship of novels.

From now on we shall see how that body of imaginative
literature constantly grew in beauty and importance until it
compelled recognition in modern times on its own merits, and
exerted an influence over the people as no classical literature
ever succeeded in doing.

This hybrid character of the Chinese drama accounts for
its peculiar composition and also for its great popular influence.
The Chinese drama is a combination of dialogues in the spoken
language, which on the whole is readily intelligible to the
populace, and songs which are sung and often partake of a
high poetic quality. Its nature is therefore entirely different
from that of the conventional English play. The songs come
in at short intervals and are more in prominence than the
spoken parts. As is natural, the comic plays are more in
dialogue, while the tragedies or dramas of human loves and
sorrows more often burst out into songs. Actually, the theatre
is attended, from the point of view of the Chinese theatre-goer,
more for its singing than for its acting. One speaks of going to
"listen*' to a play, rather than to "see" it. It would seem,
therefore, that the translation of the Chinese word hsi as
"drama" is misleading, and it would be more proper to speak
of it as Chinese "opera."

Only by understanding the Chinese hsi as a form of opera
will its wide appeal to the people, as well as the peculiarities
of its composition, be truly understood. For the appeal of the
drama—especially of the modern English drama—is largely
an appeal to the understanding, while the opera makes a
combined appeal to the senses of colour, voice, atmosphere
and emotion. The medium of the drama is the spoken language,
but that of the opera is music and the song, A theatre-goer
who attends a play expects to follow a story which pleases him